Historical past made: the US Home of Representatives votes to finish the federal marijuana ban
In a historic vote spanning more than 80 years, the House of Representatives this afternoon passed the MORE bill, a bill designed to end the federal ban on cannabis.
The House voted to end the federal cannabis ban, but the Senate is expected to block the measure.
The law was officially passed on Friday, December 4th at 1:10 p.m. with 228-164 votes.
This is the first major action by Congress on marijuana since the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which criminalized all aspects of cannabis production, sales and possession at the federal level.
The MORE bill is now set to move to the Senate, where it is expected to be blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
McConnell will likely block in the Senate
McConnell has made public his sharp opposition to the legalization of cannabis, although many members of his party support it. A majority of Republican voters also support legalization, according to recent polls.
Starting in 2021, a change in Senate party control could accelerate the final passage of the MORE bill – but this is by no means certain.
Control of the Senate currently depends on the outcome of the upcoming January 5 runoff in Georgia, where two Democrats are challenging the two Republicans who currently hold seats. If both Democrats win, control of the Senate would pass to the Democratic Party. If one or none wins, McConnell and the Republicans are in control.
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Here’s what would change
To recap what is actually included in the MORE Act, the bill would:
Remove cannabis from the list of state-controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. This would effectively remove the federal government from the marijuana criminalization game and allow each state to control cannabis at its own discretion – as alcohol is treated. Establish a covenant Excise tax on legal cannabis, starting at 5% and increasing to 8% in the first five years after implementation. The tax structure of the bill is complex and could be improved and simplified in the next iteration. (For a deeper dive, contact the cannabis control expert Pat Oglesby’s analysis at the Center for New Revenue.) Invest some of this tax revenue in communities hardest hit by the drug war. Establish a federal Small Business Administration loan program for people in communities hardest hit by the drug war. End the nightmarish application of IRS Rule 280E to legal cannabis companies. Erase and seal federal arrests and convictions of marijuana on the basis of certain cannabis-related behaviors or beliefs. Ask the Federal Labor Statistics Office to regularly publish demographic data on owners and employees of cannabis companies.
Leafly’s Guide to Legalizing Marijuana
Colorful debate before the vote
Members of the House discussed the bill about an hour before a late Friday vote. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) led the lawyers, while Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) led the opposition. The debate contained few new arguments for or against the pass, but served as a helpful snapshot of what each side believes are the most compelling points to discuss.
Rep. Sheila Lee and colleagues who have advocated this issue for many years – including Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) – debated social justice arguments and found that the war continues drugs and the criminalization of cannabis have devastated people and color communities for decades.
“The federal government lied … about marijuana”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of the few Republicans to support the bill, noted that “the federal government has lied to the people of America about marijuana for a generation.”
Meanwhile, Jordan and his Prohibition colleagues hosted a hit parade of long-unmasked fears of gateway drugs, underage access, and drug-driving.
North Carolina Republican Congressman Greg Murphy early tabled a patchwork of false arguments, protesting that the MORE bill “disregards the rights of states” and “allows the potential of marijuana revenue to fund criminal operations and cartels.”
Legalization, which began as the assertion of state rights, is actually taking violent drug cartels out of the marijuana business.
Others expressed concerns about minors’ access to marijuana and drug driving. Jordan and other Republicans spent much of their time shaming Democrats for spending time on a marijuana bill instead of helping Americans survive the COVID pandemic. In fact, Republican leaders have refused to respond to a COVID relief package for many months.
Watch the vote
In the actual vote on the bill, which took place around 12:30 p.m. Eastern this afternoon, most of the cannabis world was riveted to their screens. People saw C-SPAN for the first time in their lives.
Reactions from the cannabis world
The first event of the Deputy Californian NORML Director Ellen Komp was a hemp rally in Los Angeles in 1991 on the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Almost 30 years later, she experienced a moment of change that was just a dream at the time.
“It’s a historic day, a historic week,” Komp told Leafly on Friday. “It fully corresponds to the will of the people. It’s a good day It feels good.”
“If I had a dollar for every person who told me that marijuana would never be legal in this country, I could have the party of the century,” she added. “I’m still looking forward to having this party soon when we can have parties again.”
NORML Political Director Justin Strekal has been lobbying the halls of the Capitol for years. He said, “By setting this new avenue for federal policy, we expect more states to reconsider and change the archaic criminalization of cannabis, establish regulated consumer marketplaces, and lead law enforcement to end the practice of arresting more than half a million Americans each year cease marijuana-related violations – arrests disproportionately attributable to those of skin color and those at the lower end of the economic spectrum. “
California’s 1996 Medical Marijuana Initiative, Prop. 215, created the medical cannabis rights movement that swept the nation. Prop 215 co-architect Bill Zimmerman, now retired in Berkeley, Calif., Watched the arc of the moral universe twist slightly in his life.
“It feels great,” Zimmerman told Leafly on Friday. “It takes a lot of optimism that this arc of justice goes in the right direction to devote one’s life to social change and activism. When you see it flex, it adds to the optimism you need to keep the fight going. “
What next? It’s a long game
This congressional session is scheduled to be suspended on Thursday, December 10, 2020.
The NAACP has this helpful introduction to Congressional bills. It’s a little more detailed than the Schoolhouse Rock version. Note that “once a Congress is suspended at the end of its two-year cycle, any bills that were introduced in either the House or Senate that did not go through the entire legislative process and put into law are dead.”
If the Senate doesn’t pass the MORE bill by December 10, that version of the bill will die.
That is normal. Calculations like this often take years. At the beginning of the 117th Congress in January 2021, bills that were not passed during the 116th Congress must be reintroduced and voted again. That’s probably going to happen with the MORE Act.
I can’t help but think of giants, on whose shoulders we stand, who haven’t seen this historic vote to end the federal ban on #marijuana. A lot of respect. It wouldn’t have happened without Jack, Todd, John, Mary, Kevin, Ben, Lester, LK, Lynn, Mikel and so many more.
– ‘Radical’ Russ 🌹 Live Fri 4 p.m. Mtn / 833-RAD-RUSS (@RadicalRuss) December 4, 2020
Bruce Barcott, Leafly’s senior editor, oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
Show article by Bruce Barcott